How to groom your dog

A comprehensive guide to grooming and bathing your dog at home.

Welcoming a dog into your family means agreeing to take on a number of important responsibilities, one of which is grooming your dog. Not only does this ensure that your fur-kid always looks their best but regular bathing is also essential for your pet’s health.

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What do you want to learn?

Why do I need to groom my dog?

Brushing and grooming your dog’s coat are two other important parts of regular pet care. Brushing removes loose hair and prevents mats and knots from forming, and also distributes natural skin oils to help ensure a shiny coat. This in turn helps the coat to stay clean and means your pet requires less frequent bathing. Best of all, brushing your dog’s coat regularly is a simple way for you and your pet to spend some quality time together and form a stronger bond.

As well as brushing, your dog’s hair may need a trim from time to time – this is particularly the case for longer-haired breeds. You can get a professional groomer to take care of trimming for you, or if you have the necessary tools and know-how you can do it yourself at home.

What do I need to groom my dog?

Before reaching for the hose, make sure you have everything you need to clean your pooch from top to bottom. You may need:

  • A hose. You can use a hose if washing outdoors, or a shower head attached to the tub if available.
  • A bath. For larger dogs, the best place to bathe them is often simply outdoors. Owners of smaller and even medium-sized canines could use the bathtub or a specially designed dog washing tub.
  • Dog shampoo. Never use human shampoo as it can dry out their skin and also put them at risk from bacteria and parasites.
  • A brush. You can use this to brush out any mats or tangles before starting the bathing process.
  • Washcloth. The face and head are often sensitive areas for dogs, so rather than just squirting them in the face with water you’ll be better off using a damp washcloth to wipe down these areas.
  • Cotton balls. You can use these to prevent water getting into the ears and potentially leading to an ear infection.
  • Treats. Having a couple of tasty treats nearby can be handy for rewarding calm behaviour and helping nervous dogs get used to being bathed.
  • Dry towels. These are essential for drying your dog once he’s clean, especially during colder weather.
  • Dog nail clippers. Trimming long nails prevents them getting snagged on obstacles or becoming ingrown.
  • Hair clippers or scissors. If your long-haired dog requires a coat trim, you’ll need a pair of dog hair clippers or hair-cutting scissors.
  • A leash. This can be essential to ensure that some dogs stay in place while you take care of the necessary grooming tasks.
  • A toothbrush. Special dog toothbrushes and toothpaste can be used to clean your pet’s teeth and reduce the risk of dental disease.

Step-by-step guide to grooming your dog

Now it’s time to get started. Follow these steps to groom your dog to perfection:

  1. Gather your grooming tools. Gather all the items you need from the above list and prepare your grooming space. This could involve clearing an area in the backyard, or perhaps putting down some non-slip matting in your bathtub.
  2. Brush to remove any knots. Use a brush or comb to remove any knots or tangles from your pet’s coat. Dogs with constantly matted hair may require a special tool called a matting rake, or there are also detangle solutions you can use. A good brush down before a bath will also remove any loose hair; a soft bristle brush will usually do the trick for short-haired dogs, but long-haired breeds might need a special tool like the Furminator.
  3. Give a pre-bath clip. If your long-haired dog needs any sections of hair clipped or trimmed, for example, around the face or the pads of the feet, now is the time to do it. You’ll usually be able to skip this step with short-haired breeds.
  4. Bath time. Prep is over and it’s time to get down to business. Starting from the chest and neck and then working down to the tail, wet your dog’s hair right down to the skin. Apply some dog shampoo all over the body, rubbing right down to the undercoat, remembering to be gentle at all times. Then rinse out the shampoo using your fingers and finish up, or consider applying a dog conditioner if you’re giving a really thorough clean.
  5. Dry off. While it’s a natural instinct for dogs to shake off excess water when wet (and cover you in the process), you’ll still need a big towel or two to get them thoroughly dry. Air drying can then finish the job, but this is not advisable during the colder months.
  6. Clean the ears. Next, make sure the ears are dry and free of any wax. Cotton wool is useful here, while you may also need special dog ear cleaner for some floppy-eared breeds.
  7. Trim the toenails. Use doggy nail clippers to trim Rover’s toenails. If you’ve never done this before, seek advice from your local groomer or vet to ensure that you don’t cut the quick. Nails are softer and easier to trim when wet, but walking your dog on cement is an easy way to naturally keep the nails shorter.
  8. Brush those teeth. To complete the clean, use a dog toothbrush and canine toothpaste to give your pet’s teeth a scrub. Dental health is crucially important for dogs – after all, their mouth is the main tool they use to interact with the world around them – and regular brushing is the best way to keep Rover’s teeth and gums in tip-top condition.

And that’s it – by now your dog should look, smell and feel like a million bucks. Remember to reward your dog for good behaviour with treats and praise throughout the grooming process. Hopefully this will, over time, help them come to see each grooming session as a positive and fun experience.

How often should I bathe my dog?

Bathing your dog on a regular basis is important to complement their natural grooming behaviour. Dogs groom themselves to keep their skin healthy and to encourage hair follicles to grow, and giving them a regular wash will help to supplement this process. But washing your dog too often can be bad for them. It can irritate their skin, damage their hair follicles and increase their risk of infections.

So how often is too often? Well, it depends on the type of dog and the lifestyle they lead. As a general rule of thumb, most healthy dogs will benefit from a bath once a fortnight, but this is only an average and depends on the dog’s age, fur type, skin condition and how active it is.

Dogs with oily coats need to be washed once a week, while those with thick or water repellent coats don’t need to be washed as often and would benefit more from frequent grooming instead.

And obviously dogs who spend a lot of time outdoors, rolling in things they shouldn’t and getting wet and muddy at every opportunity are going to need to be washed more regularly than indoor dogs who spend most of their time on the couch.

One way to decide when it’s bath time is to smell your dog. Some dogs are naturally more “pongy” than others, so if they start to get a bit whiffy, you know it’s time to get out the shampoo.

Dogs with sensitive skin may also require more frequent washing, as bathing can be a step in the management process of some medical conditions such as allergic skin disease.

My dog has sensitive skin. What should I wash it with?

If your dog has sensitive skin, you should use a shampoo specifically designed for dogs (dog skin is much less alkaline than human skin) and preferably a mild preparation such as an oatmeal-based shampoo.

Dogs can still have negative reactions to some products, even those made specifically for them. Skin reactions can include red, itchy skin and hives and if they swallow any shampoo, symptoms can include vomiting, drooling and loss of appetite.

So if you’re unsure about what product to use when washing your dog, always consult your veterinarian as there are medicated shampoos available specifically designed for dogs with sensitive skin.

Should I use flea treatments?

Flea products are necessary to keep your dog free of fleas and other parasites and they can be administered either orally or applied to the skin.

It is important to remember that those applied to the skin depend on the oils in the skin to spread them around, so if your dog requires frequent washing, you might be better off using an oral method instead, as frequent washing will strip some of the oils from their skin.

There are certain non-stripping shampoos on the market, but again if you are unsure about which one to use, it’s best to consult your local veterinarian.

How often should I wash a puppy?

As a general rule, puppies should not be bathed more than once a month due to the tendency of shampoo when applied too frequently to strip the natural oils from their coats. Normal grooming with a brush and comb will help maintain their coat and keep it clean between baths.

Quick tips

And finally, here are a couple of tips to make life easier when it comes to bath time itself:

  • Always wash your dog’s body first and leave their head until last as dogs will shake themselves off once their head is wet.
  • Even if a dog shampoo claims to be “tearless”, don’t put it directly in your dog’s eyes, but rather wash around their eyes and rinse it off right away.
  • If you want wash day to go smoothly, use treats to reward good bath time behaviour.
  • If your dog is large and his (and your) patience is small, consider taking him to a dog wash facility or your local pet salon.

Training your dog to enjoy baths

Dogs are notoriously reluctant bathers, which can often make your task quite challenging. At the first sign of the hose or any mention of the word “bath”, some frightened pooches won’t hesitate to head for the hills.

What can you do to encourage your dog to enjoy baths? Remember a few simple tips:

  • Get your pup used to being handled. Before you even think about bathing, use praise and rewards to get your dog used to being handled in general. Start slowly by patting them on the chest, sides and back, and gradually work up towards more sensitive areas like the paws and ear flaps. By continuing to praise and reward your dog for relaxing and letting you handle them, your pooch will be more likely to accept a trip to the bath.
  • Take it slow. Don’t throw your dog in at the deep end; take your time to slowly introduce them to bathing. Use plenty of praise and treats to reward good behaviour, and remember to stay calm and never get frustrated.
  • Introduce the equipment. Introduce your dog to the special bathing equipment one item at a time. From the hose and towels to standing on non-slip mats and even standing in a dry tub, take it slowly and help your dog get used to each unique piece of equipment. Reward with treats and praise so that she comes to associate those items with positive experiences.

With a patient and calm approach, your dog will be ready to be bathed, groomed and paw-sitively pampered whenever you want.

Want to make your pooch even happier? Prove it.

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Dog grooming FAQ

Picture: Shutterstock

Tim Falk

A freelance writer with a passion for the written word, Tim loves helping Australians find the right home loans and savings accounts. When he's not chained to a computer, Tim can usually be found exploring the great outdoors.

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